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¿Viva España? The Case for Marc Gasol and Spain in the FIBA World Cup

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Especially in Memphis, the Spanish national team has earned our support. For everyone else, don't miss the opportunity to appreciate one of the greatest non-U.S. national teams ever assembled.

Marc Gasol and Kevin Durant look to meet again next month in FIBA World Cup
Marc Gasol and Kevin Durant look to meet again next month in FIBA World Cup
Joe Robbins

I have a confession: I'm pulling for Spain in the FIBA Basketball World Cup next month. Before a bunch of Minutemen take a break from making tri-corner hats and screaming at children on the border to tell me I should "Love it or leave it," let me take a moment to explain a bit about how the English watch the FIFA World Cup. The Premier League (the U.K.'s professional soccer league) is rightly considered the best and most competitive league in the world, and it's the professional home for nearly 15% of the 736 participants in this year's tournament, including some of its biggest stars like Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney's hair plugs, and our own Tim "Brick Shithouse" Howard (Ed. Note: hallowed be Thy name). In other words, the Premier League is the NBA of the soccer world.*

*Sorry, La Liga fan, but it's the truth. What's that? You gonna cry, La Liga fan?

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Clearly, people in the UK cheer for their home country's club in World Cup play first and foremost, but if you followed individual Premier League teams' fans on Twitter during the tournament, you probably noticed quite a bit of enthusiasm for the Brazilian squad from Chelsea fans and a lot of Arsenal partisans cheering boisterously for ze Germans. That's because there were three Arsenal players representing Germany and four Chelsea players donning The Green and Yellow.

OK, numbnuts, you're probably thinking to yourself, sometimes people play professional sports in other countries, what's your point? That doesn't mean you can root against the US National Team! THESE COLORS DON'T RUN!

Yea... but here's the thing: any hardcore NBA fan would tell you that their NBA team means a lot more to them than the US National Team. Unlike soccer, there's only one championship that counts in our world: the one that leads to hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy. So I'm throwing my lot in with the Spaniards in a couple weeks, mostly because I just plain like Marc Gasol more than everybody else on the U.S. team. Of course, I wouldn't pull a Benedict Arnold just for Marc (probably), there are six five eight reasons why you should join me in repping la Roja next month... TO THE LIST!

1. We don't have to prove our dominance in the FIBA World Cup.

Here's a list of American basketball players who won't be playing in the tournament.[1] When the guys who couldn't be bothered to show up would enter the tournament with better odds against the field than Alabama had over Notre Dame in 2013, it's hard to argue that what they're playing for represents a WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. Even the most die-hard Lithuanian or Argentinean world basketball fan would readily concede that WE'RE #1, so even if we lose (which we do more than often than not!), we don't really lose face. In fact, this is the one situation in which an armchair commentator can win an argument against a pesky foreign agitator with one word:

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2. The Spanish team is nearing the end of a golden age, and they deserve this.

There's something inherently unjust about arguably the greatest non-American national team ever not getting at least one championship over the U.S. Goliath. [2] Call me a socialist if you wish, but these guys deserve something better than a bunch of silver medals and a EuroBasket title. Four years from now, Pau's knees will have disintegrated and Juan Carlos Navarro will be 50 and serving a life sentence for murdering his older brother for being the biggest d-bag in alternative rock history. Go take a look at this roster and try to argue that any of the teams that beat our guys in the post-Dream Team era could hang with them for 40 minutes. Go ahead. Do it.

3. If the U.S. doesn't win, we get to blame Kevin Love ...

Who's kind of being a jerk right now. Now I'm not one to defend Dwight Howard for any reason, in any situation... ever. But for as much heat as that guy caught (100% justifiably!) for ruining the Magic and acting like an overgrown "Stillwell Angel!", Love has remained more or less above the fray despite the fact that he kinda quits on his team every year, he's never won a damn thing, he's forever owned by Joey Dorsey, and he just quit the U.S. National team at the last minute to spend more time sucking up to LeBron. Is this worse than The Decision?[3] Is this a racial thing because Dwight Howard is black and Kevin Love is white?[4] Regardless, while Love spends the rest of the summer checking in at all of Akron's hottest spots on FourSquare, the guy who's been the most adversely affected by this budding bromance is...

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4. Poor Ricky. Poor, poor Ricky.

I don't know if the T-Wolves are just snakebit or what, but poor Ricky Rubio is due for a break. The above picture is what it looks like when doves cry. The only person I can think of who might be in more need of a career readjustment right now is Josh Gordon, and at least Gordon can blame himself. Rubio just has to sit back and watch his (pretty good on paper!) team crumble every year in the impossible West to injuries and their best player's disinterest. If Rubio can help Spain beat the U.S. next month, we might finally get to see more from the kid that showed all that promise in the 2008 Olympics. Which would be awesome. Because really good Rubio is fun as hell to watch.

5. If the U.S. doesn't win, we get to blame Coach K

There's not enough space on the Internet for me to properly excoriate The One They Call Ratface, so I'll just block quote the master Andrew Sharp from his 2010 magnum opus for our parent site that made the case for continued, renewed, and rejuvenated Duke animus:

I'm not making an arugment here. But I'd just like to go on record that, considering all the facts, I truly believe that Coach Mike Krzyzewski is just a bad person. No different than his mentor Bob Knight, K's just a bully. A bully that happens to have rich friends, a glittering reputation, and spectacular PR to keep it that way. But still a bully; the sort of person who would scream expletives at the mother of a kid that's about to fulfill his lifelong dreams, or invite college kids to the Duke locker room to shout at them for 15 minutes. That's Mike Krzyzewski.

I went to UNC, so I can hardly be seen as a fair arbiter on Krzyzewski's life and career, but in the words of someone for whom he almost certainly holds deep admiration, Donald Rumsfeld, "There are known knowns... [and] there are known unknowns." Here's what we know we know: the man's a hypocrite of the highest order that has rigged the system in his favor at every turn, he's a quitter, he's abusive, and above all else, he's the most self-righteous, sanctimonious lizard-man in a sport governed by a body whose moral authority is only slightly less of a joke than these guys'. The known unknowns are as follows: he was Craig James' accomplice at SMU, Rashad McCants was a Krzyzewski mole the entire time, disgraced former Rutgers coach Mike Rice learned everything he knew from Krzyzewski, Butch Davis was a Krzyzewski mole the entire time; and finally, Krzyzewski, Donald Trump, and Dan Snyder all vacay together every summer on Mago Island.

6. If the U.S. doesn't win, we get to blame Blake Griffin

I can't prove it, but I'm 100% sure that Blake's back, much like Mike Krzyzewski's back in 1996, is fine. Don't believe the LAMESTREAM media's reports about a fractured vertebra. If his vertebra is fractured, then how did he walk around at the ESPYS, huh? Back didn't look all broke when he was laughing at Drake, did it? Ever think of that, SHEEPLE? WHATS HE HIDING? BENGAZZI! CHEMTRAILS!

The truth is Blake knew he dodged a real backache this summer when the NBA found a chemtrail between Steven Adams' pointy face and the gentle, gliding paw of Zach Randolph.[5][6] The last two years, Marc Gasol and Z-Bo have taken turns pounding him into oblivion in the playoffs, and the last thing he wanted to do this summer was travel across the pond just to be the melted cheese in the middle of a Double Gasol Double Cheeseburger.

7. WEEEEENNNDDDIIIIIIIIIIIGOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here he is. Marc Gasol, in all of his rugged glory. He's my hero. He plays for Spain. Gasol_medium

He's probably the greatest Grizzly to ever suit up playing next to the third greatest Grizzly ever who, oh, just happens to be his older brother. Depending on Derrick Rose's health, he's also probably the second best player in this tournament behind Kevin Durant. I don't want this to turn into a pure mash note because Marc's greatness has been written about at length by those more qualified to do so than me, so I'll just say that my favorite thing about being a Griz fan in this era has been watching him grow into this dominant force. When he arrived, most people thought that he'd be in competition with Hamed Haddadi for a back-of-the-bench spot, but he started from Day 1! And then-Coach Marc Iavaroni LOVED Darko Milicic! Something strange and thrilling and new started happening as soon as Marc showed up; I mean, check out this blurb from the AP's recap of Marc's first game inside FedEx Forum (his second in the Association):

At times, the matchup in the low post became entertaining as the rookie Gasol battled against [Dwight] Howard. The Magic center managed only four shots in the half, and at times appeared frustrated.

To truly appreciate what a miracle this looked like to everyone in Memphis, you've got to understand that the last time we saw Marc (who went to high school in Memphis after his family moved here when Pau was drafted), he looked like this. Just a few years later, he was shutting down Dwight Howard in his hometown professional debut. I vividly remember not even really talking about it that much because it seemed like an apparition. We'd literally spent years -- YEARS! -- dreaming about getting Eddy Curry (Ed. Note: Yes, that Eddy Curry. No, he wasn't very good then either.) to come play next to Pau, and the idea of an honest-to-God center in Memphis was almost too much to process. That it was Marc Gasol -- Pau's schlubby little brother that didn't seem fit for D1 college basketball let alone the pros -- made it all the more incredible.

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"Going home" has been talked about a lot in NBA circles over the past few weeks, but I think people may have neglected our own Big Spain in the discussion. First of all, he's actually playing for the franchise that represents the city in which he grew up (not the one closest to it); and second, he's actually sacrificing something to stay in Memphis: superstardom. But he clearly relishes being here, and while it's probably a leap to say that playing high school ball in the local private school league helped turn him into the human wrecking ball that he's become, he has a Memphis way about him. His skill set is the perfect combination of smooth, angular Euroball and Gangsta Walking.

So yea, I'm going for Spain. Because I think this franchise owes Marc every bit of its success over the Grit 'n Grind era. This Grizzlies team and all the amazing moments and characters it has produced has enriched my life in ways that no other team I've rooted for has ever come close to matching.[7] I don't exactly have an adequate explanation as to why they've meant so much, but Marc's always meant the most. I remember him gathering the team at center court after the Grizzlies won their first-ever home playoff game against the Spurs as the crowd lost its collective mind because this had just happened and somehow keeping the whole team on the level. He's the rock, the anchor, the enforcer, the quarterback, the elusive skilled big man, the do-everything stat-stuffer that can out-bang Boogie Cousins and drop 7 dimes in the process. Where the hell did this guy come from to save professional basketball in the Bluff City?

I honestly don't know how we got so lucky, but I do know that I'll be rooting for the big fella no matter what's on the front of his jersey.

8. Finally, if the U.S. doesn't win, we get to blame Dwight Howard

Because it's his fault. Always.

Viva España, yall.


[1] LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard (though he probably wouldn't make the team anyway because he's the worst), Chris Bosh, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin

[2] Yes, Spain won the World Championship in 2006 by destroying the Greek team that beat the U.S. team still rebuilding from the Iverson era, but Marc Gasol didn't play then and Ricky Rubio was just a glint in his mother's eye. Plus, they never beat the Americans; therefore, ASTERICKS!

Turns out Marc played a pretty significant role in that tournament. From super-commenter theresalwaysabiggerfish: Marc Gasol joined the team as the 12th man and was considered to be there just due to his famous brother.  Marc Gasol did not play much in the tournament, other than blowouts and garbage time. He never set foot on the court during the dramatic semi-finals against Argentina, decided in the final seconds. But Pau Gasol got injured, and backup big man Felipe Reyes was still recovering from back injury, and Marc Gasol became the surprise weapon in the finals. Spain used at times an unexpected "box and one" defense having the center as the "one" (ie, playing man-to-man defense while the other four played zone defense). That was a surprising twist as usually box and one defenses have a perimeter player as the "one".  Anyway, to wrap up this long story, Marc Gasol was at the time mostly famous for being his brother’s brother, overweight and reportedly lazy. He went out, played a terrific game in the finals, and went on to develop as a big time player in record time.

[3] Probably?

[4] Almost certainly, but it doesn't take away from the fact that Dwight Howard is the absolute worst. K-Love's not as bad as Dwight... nobody is. But I'd argue he's getting close.

[5] I'm not saying that Adam Silver wanted the Thunder to advance over the Grizzlies when he made his ruling, I'm just saying that Donald Sterling's decades of almost laughably vile behavior conveniently made its way to forefront right around the time that his golden boy MVP was about to get bounced in the first round. Oh well played, Mr. Commissioner. Well played, indeed.

[6] Also, give me a break, if Z-Bo had really punched that Kiwi, they'd still be mourning their loss on the streets of Auckland.

[7] And not for lack of competition: I watched my childhood football team win the first BCS National Championship in 1998 in person, and the Tar Heels won it my senior year in Chapel Hill.